Column: First year of rebuild under Cole shows hopeful future
To kick-off the 2017-18 season, the Spartan hockey program decided to make some changes after getting the same results year after year.
Under new head coach Danton Cole, the team improved last season’s record by winning five more games to bring its record to 12-19-2. This might not seem too exciting for some, but brings a sense of hope for the coming years.
Cole knew he had to rebuild this team, but also knew it would take time and energy to get this team where it needs to be.
“I'm here just to build,” Cole said during media day on Sept. 27. “I think every team you have, regardless, it has to be a build. ... And I think the more success, you have the more you have to hammer back in that and not let guys get ahead, not let them skip steps. So we started that way. Our first talk was, ‘hey, this is a puck.’ And after we win our next National Championship, we'll do the same thing."
This season the team’s power play stepped up and ranked No. 29 in the country with 24 goals scored out of 127 chances with the man advantage. Sophomore forward Taro Hirose ranks No. 9 in the nation in points with 40 points this season alone, while fellow linemate freshman forward Mitchell Lewandowski ranks No. 12 in goals scored with 19.
A new head coach brings a new chapter into the MSU hockey program, especially for the returning players who struggled season after season only to see the same outcome.
“I think it’s a fresh start for a lot of guys,” Hirose said after MSU's win over Bowling Green on Oct. 14. “We have a lot of young guys and a lot of new guys and that’s just energy that we can go off of each game.”
At the beginning of the season, the team kept its winning percentage near .500 before it dropped off into the second half of the season and improved its home record to 8-7-1. For a struggling program, this can build the confidence of many players within the locker room in years to come.
Freshman forward Tommy Miller said he looked past the standings of last season before becoming a Spartan. Building off each other and utilizing every player on the ice is what he said he thinks will make them a stronger team for the seasons to come.
“This team has come a long way from what I saw last year,” Miller said after a Nov. 12 win against Wisconsin. “We really have adapted using everybody on the team and getting everybody going in the game. but in the future years I think we can have a chance (at making the NCAA Tournament).”
With leadership coming from all the class standings on the team and their confidence bouncing off each other, the team can look forward to a brighter future.
“And I think we're a team that's just going to keep getting better and better this year and leading into next year,” Cole said during media day. “So I think there's a lot of exciting things.” (Link)
Not only has the record improved, but the first line of Hirose, Lewandowski and sophomore forward Patrick Khodorenko produced 43 percent of the team’s points and drew in record crowds compared to last season’s low turnout.
Senior defenseman Carson Gatt said he thinks fans should look past this season’s record, because he feels this team can do more than just be the team sitting in last place in the Big Ten.
“My first question would be have you been to some games this year ... because I’m pretty sure if you came out and watched how hard we compete for 60 minutes or 120 minutes over the weekend, it might change your mind a little bit.” Gatt said after MSU's Feb. 24 loss to Penn State.
The Spartans won't be playing in the NCAA Tournament this season, but for the years to come their chances might increase with new prospects joining the team, and maybe one day they will bring the national championship to East Lansing.